Erasure and Manhattan Nocturne

“You can always tell, I think, with adults, who felt loved as a child and who did not; it’s in their eyes and walk and speech. There’s a certain brutal clarity. You can almost smell it.” – Colin Harrison

In some Spring of the late 1990s I was listening to this Erasure song and reading ‘Manhattan Nocturne’ by Colin Harrison. Like Barbra Streisand, Erasure was never a favorite of mine, but Mr. Harrison – now there was an artist I could love. In those solitary nights, as the condo quietly waited until morning, I would read and marvel at his way with words, and, more importantly to me, his understanding of the human spirit – how dark it could go, how low we could sink, and how the smallest sliver of hope sometimes remained, but often didn’t.

“It was not as if I was not myself – oh no, I was myself, I was my other self, the self that wishes to carry on a secret dialogue with all that is evil in human nature. Some men do not struggle with this in themselves. They seem to have a certain grace. They are happy – or rather, they are content. They swing tennis rackets in the sunlight and get the oil checked regularly and laugh when the audience laughs. They accept limits. They are not interested in what might come up from the dark, cold hole of human possibility.” – Colin Harrison

It was not uplifting, it did not offer solutions, it did not even attempt to extend some bit of solace, but it was honest, it was real, and it was the very truth I wanted to confront. For more than Mr. Harrison dazzled me with his writing skills, he astounded in his portrayal of how different people survived in such a shitty world. Writers who get that, who show us the very worst so unflinchingly, have always impressed me. Whatever the reason, they seem to have more compassion than me, and so I strive to find that love of humanity by reading their work.

“There are people who enjoy degradation, or who seek it thinking they will enjoy it, or who seek it because it is the way they know how to have pleasure. After all, the experience is theirs. Perhaps they lived through the degradation and found pleasure in that realization. Or perhaps they found that in degradation there is a releasing of oneself; one is powerless; responsibility is taken away. I am not describing what occurs during the actual event, but the subsequent thought about the event that accumulates in a person’s mind.” – Colin Harrison

At that young age, I could have no way of knowing first-hand what he was talking about, but somehow I could sense what was coming. In a way, I look at that time as a way of fortifying myself for the heartache that would follow. It would be vain, foolish, to think I would escape unscathed, to think that true love would beat a steady and straight path to my door, then knock upon it and wait, even if I was not ready. That sort of faith in love would prove ruinous. This is what I tried to teach myself by reading his words. This is what I tried to impress upon my heart. There are some life-lessons that can’t be learned from a book.

“In my experience, men and women who have a kind of brutal fortitude have been made that by a sequence of events, until the person passes beyond a point of no return. They learn that life requires the ability to coldly stand pain of one kind or another… They will do what is necessary to survive; they will conceal and protect their vulnerabilities, except from those who cannot hurt them. Above all, they will press their advantage when it presents itself.” – Colin Harrison


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